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Produced & Maintained by Idaho Mountain Express, Box 1013, Ketchum, ID 83340-1013 
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Copyright © 2003 Express Publishing Inc.
All Rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Express Publishing Inc. is prohibited. 

For the week of October 1 - 7, 2003


Making sense of
East Fork merge

At intersection, motorists
advised to ‘use both lanes’

"We want everybody to use both lanes and then alternate in allowing cars to merge from the right."

— GENE RAMSEY, Chief deputy, Blaine County Sheriff’s Department

Winter Driving

With the ushering in of fall last week, the season’s first snow is likely not far behind. Unfortunately, snow and ice on Highway 75 often worsen an already difficult commute to Ketchum from southern Blaine County.

To promote safe driving in winter conditions, the state Transportation Department recommends motorists:

  • Slow down, employ gentler turns and stops, and maintain longer following distances.

  • Get the feel of the road by starting out slowly and testing your steering control and braking ability.

  • Use tire chains on very slippery roads.

  • Avoid sudden movements of the steering wheel when stopping. Pump the brake pedal slowly when stopping, if the vehicle does not have anti-lock brakes.

  • Watch for ice and slippery spots ahead, particularly on bridges and in shaded areas.

  • Keep their windows clear and their vehicle in the best possible driving condition.

Express Staff Writer

For many Wood River Valley residents who commute each weekday morning from southern Blaine County to Ketchum and Sun Valley, it has prompted hints of road rage and scores of feisty debates.

Express photo by Willy Cook

Some have called it a microcosm of our society, complete with "good guys’ and "bad guys," while others have claimed it’s simply an inevitable product of growth.

"It" is the routine bottleneck that occurs at the intersection of East Fork Road and State Highway 75 during the peak hour of the northbound commute, typically from 7:30 a.m. to 8:30 a.m.

On many weekdays—particularly those that coincide with inclement weather or highway maintenance projects—cars and trucks clog the left lane that approaches the intersection, while a second, right-hand lane that passes through the intersection and its stoplight essentially goes unused.

Several hundred feet past the intersection—where the right lane merges into the left lane to form a single through lane toward Ketchum—motorists who have endured a long wait in the left lane often cringe and curse as some drivers move up the right side and attempt to merge.

The problem can be particularly acute in winter, during or immediately after a snowstorm.

Theories among the general public abound as to which group of drivers—those who deliberately stay left to avoid the merge or those who drive on the right and inch back into the left lane—is abiding the law.

This week, law-enforcement and highway officials concurred that motorists who use the right lane to pass through the East Fork intersection are generally following the protocol for merges on state highways.

"We’re encouraging people to use both lanes," said Chief Deputy Gene Ramsey of the Blaine County Sheriff’s Department. "We want everybody to use both lanes and then alternate in allowing cars to merge from the right."

Idaho State Police Sgt. Chris Schenck provided the same advice to Wood River Valley motorists. "You should use both lanes. That way it doesn’t back up all the way (past the Greenhorn bridge)," he said.

Tom Logan, project inspector for the ITD, reconfirmed the policy. "There are two northbound lanes, and people need to get used to using either one," he said.

Logan noted that improvements made to the intersection in 2002—which included adding a second northbound lane through the intersection—were designed with the intent that motorists would advance through the intersection stoplight in both lanes before heeding road-sign instructions to merge further on.

Ramsey said use of both traffic lanes, combined with courteous behavior at the merge, would in fact increase the efficiency of the highway and subsequently decrease commuters’ overall travel times. He explained that because there is a short delay before cars stopped at the East Fork light can start moving in the line before them, more cars could advance through each light cycle if motorists used lanes.

"If you only use one lane, it takes longer for all the cars to get moving," he said.

Ramsey, as well as Schenck, said the law does not establish a protocol for cars in a through lane to allow cars in an adjacent lane to merge. Both noted that some drivers who have waited in the left lane to get through the traffic light might be reluctant to let drivers merge from an often faster-moving right lane.

"The left lane in that case does have the right of way," Schenck said. "It would be courteous to let people in, but I suppose if people have been sitting in line a long time and someone pulls up beside them, they may not want to let them in."

However, Ramsey said motorists on the left would generally be expected to yield to vehicles on the right that were "in front" of them. "Just because a car gets in front of you isn’t going to make a difference in your commute," he added.

Ramsey noted that passing in the right lane is not encouraged, suggesting instead that an evenly dispersed traffic flow in both lanes would be the safest—and quickest—approach for commuters to proceed north on Highway 75.

Logan said that neither of the two lanes passing through the intersection has been designated as a "passing lane" or a preferred "driving lane." He noted that the right-to-left merge was designed to avoid having to shift the highway and its center line east simply to accommodate a "through" right-hand lane.

All told, Logan said ITD considers the improvements to the intersection "a highly successful project."

Ramsey said the Sheriff’s Department is hopeful motorists can adjust their driving habits, but noted that highway traffic during peak commuting hours is now a fact of life in the Wood River Valley. "It’s just one of those things that citizens of this community have to deal with."



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